Principled Explanations in Comparative Biomusicology – Toward a Comparative Cognitive Biology of the Human Capacities for Music and Language

My PhD thesis is finally available! Are you interested in the following topics?

  • Biomusicology
  • Cognitive biology
  • Comparative approach
  • Neurocognitive mechanisms
  • Syntax in language and music
  • Rhythmic syntax
  • ALE meta-analysis

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Comments are welcome!


The current thesis tackles the question “Why is music the way it is?” within a comparative biomusicology framework by focusing on musical syntax and its relation to syntax in language. Comparative biomusicology integrates different comparative approaches, biological frameworks as well as levels of analysis in cognitive science, and puts forward principled explanations, regarding cognitive systems as different instances of the same principles, as its central research strategy. The main goal is to provide a preliminary answer to this question in form of hypotheses about neurocognitive mechanisms, i.e., cognitive and neural processes, underlying a core function of syntactic computation in language and music, i.e., mapping hierarchical structure and temporal sequence. In particular, the relationship between language and music is discussed on the basis of a top-down approach taking syntax as combinatorial principles and a bottom-up approach taking neural structures and operations as implementational principles. On the basis of the top-down approach, the thesis identifies computational problems of musical syntax, cognitive processes and neural correlates of music syntactic processing, and the relationship to language syntax and syntactic processing. The neural correlates of music syntactic processing are investigated by ALE meta-analyses. The bottom-up approach then studies the relationship between language and music on the basis of neural processes implemented in the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuits. The main result of the current thesis suggests that the relationship between language and music syntactic processing can be explained in terms of the same neurocognitive mechanisms with different expressions on the motor-to-cognitive gradient. The current thesis, especially its bottom-up approach, opens up a possible way going toward comparative cognitive biology, i.e., a comparative approach to cognitive systems with a greater emphasis on the biology.

Workshop: Computational approaches in language and music cognition research

August 30th and 31st, 2019
University of Cologne, Germany



Investigating language and music in the field of cognitive science means studying them as (computational) neurocognitive systems, i.e., information processing systems in the mind/brain.

Thus, language and music cognition research deals with the following questions:

  • What is computed in the mind/brain and why?
  • How is a particular computation realized in terms of algorithms or neural implementation?

Formal-mathematical theory of language and music mainly contributed to the former question, while computer simulations of cognitive and neural processes rather tackled the latter question. The current workshop discusses different computational approaches and aims at clarifying the role of computational modelling to advance mechanistic explanations to language and music cognition.

The topics of the workshop are:

  • Computational and conceptual neurocognitive models of language and music processing
  • Models of interaction and situated music and language cognition
  • Computational music theory and computational linguistics

Overall, this workshop also aims at fostering computational thinking as a core competence enabling interdisciplinary communication and welcomes students and  researchers interested in modelling cognition of music and language.

Invited speakers:
Alexander Clark (King’s College London, UK)
Richard Cooper (Birkbeck University of London, UK)
Peter Ford Dominey (INSERM U846 Stem Cell and Brain Research Institute & Université de Lyon, France)
David Temperley (Eastman School of Music, USA)
…more tba